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The Million Dollar Machine Life Skills Enrichment Program, Grades K-3 and 4-6 Review by April Elstrom

DatAsia, Inc.
PO Box 1157
Holmes Beach, FL 34218-1157
941-778-3086
http://www.LifeSkills4Kids.com

The Million Dollar Machine Life Skills Enrichment Program is available in two age levels: Grades K-3 and Grades 4-6. Each book is a glossy softcover of 98 pages in an 8 x 11 inch size. The text is black and white text with grayscale illustrations. Both books include lessons on Self Awareness, Interpersonal Skills, Decision Making, Drug Awareness, and Earth Skills. The Grades 4-6 book includes an additional section on Refusal Skills. The K-3 book includes three to five lessons per section, while the 4-6 book has three to four lessons per section.

Intended to teach Character Education, Health Education, and Drug Use Prevention, this program has been used by classroom educators for twenty years. Specially designed to strengthen relationships between children and their caregivers, the program intends to inspire healthy behaviors, develop positive social skills, and train children to protect themselves from harmful influences. Each Lesson is broken into various sections. In the K-3 program, the sections are "Talk," "Make," and "Play." In the 4-6 program, the sections are "Discuss," "Investigate," "Create," and "Interact." The program's underlying premise is that the student's body is the miraculous "million dollar machine" for which the program is named. It emphasizes parental involvement as a vital part of every child's education.

These books are the culmination of MDM pilot programs involving more than 450,000 students and years of evaluation. Each lesson is presented on a two-page spread with two additional worksheets immediately following. (Copy permission is included for parents to print necessary worksheets for multiple children.) Lessons include a Learning Objective followed by a brief overview titled "Lesson Notes." A variety of activities are provided covering a range of Learning Styles, enabling parents to choose activities most suited for their child and their desired teaching objective. At the end of each book, there are lists of vocabulary words (10 for each lesson) to be used in regular language arts and spelling lessons. We found the vocabulary words to be generally more difficult than kindergarten or first grade levels. Also at the end of the book is a list of Online Learning Resources.

The Lesson Objectives include such things as "I love myself because I'm special," "I see the special qualities in other people," "Doctors use medicine as a healing tool after special training," "Other people sometimes try to influence my decisions," and "I'm an important member of nature's team." Helpful discussion tips and hints are included in bold within the lessons. Many questions are open ended and will require guidance by the parent teacher. This allows the parent to lead children to the importance of their creator, their value as an individual created for a purpose, and their place in a world designed for God's glory.

We found this program to be very workable in a homeschool environment. Field trips and interviews with various community individuals are often suggested as optional activities in the lessons, and these are similar to activities we regularly take part in. The tone is very positive toward parental involvement, although it is from the viewpoint of parents supporting the classroom environment. Drugs are defined as any substance that is illegal and harmful for children, including alcohol and tobacco, which are legal for adults. Medicines and prescription drugs are presented as healing tools used by qualified professionals and administered by parents or school nursing staff. You will want to note that caffeine is included as a negative drug that should be avoided. Lessons encourage the student to "visit places without leaving your home" via the Internet, books, television, and email. This is often a strength for homeschoolers, as we relish in research and utilizing every tool possible to further the education of our children.

It is always left to the teacher to pick and choose activities or assignments, which we appreciated. We enjoyed the "Baby, You're Beautiful!" activity, which involved putting family baby pictures in order and recalling previous homes, events, or family vacations, and what made each special and unique. As with other programs designed for large classroom use, some activities will need to be adapted for home school families. We enjoyed the worksheet on who to call in an emergency, as it includes different phone examples, including the old spin-dial phones rarely seen today.

The Million Dollar Machine program has no reference to God, biblical rules for life, or Christian guidelines for character. However, there would be plenty of opportunities for parents to instill a biblical worldview. Pride is a recurring theme, with statements like "Now I'm pretty proud of myself," and "They created their future and achieved their dream, you can too." There is a fine line between self worth and being boastful; parents should be diligent when teaching these character values. On the positive side, however, a lesson asks whether making money is an important goal, and it stresses that money cannot buy happiness, friendship, love, health, time, etc. Parents can utilize this program to further a biblical worldview, but it will take a little effort to do so.

Take note that when "Learning Styles" are mentioned, the program does not mean learning styles as defined by many homeschoolers. Rather, it is a reference to the sections within each lesson (discuss, investigate, create, and interact for the older program, and talk, make, and play for the younger program). You will not find direct references to kinesthetic, visual, or auditory learners, although there are worksheets included that would certainly address those needs.

One activity, in particular, shocked our family. The "Smart Shopper Sweep" activity in the K-3 program calls for children to gather containers from home to bring to class, including empty containers from cigarettes, medicines, alcohol, and cleaning supplies. Although the lesson does instruct the teacher to be sure to clean all items before the activity, I am appalled that it would ever be suggested. It is not necessary for children to observe the actual physical containers in order to understand that they need to avoid them. Clippings from magazines and newspapers will just as easily accomplish this goal and allow children to classify the items accordingly. Also, from a practical standpoint, the photocopying is a bit annoying; the book binding makes it difficult to get the page flat enough for a good printout. And as mentioned previously, a biblical worldview is missing from the program. Be aware that the closing lessons are on the topic of earth conservation. I urge parents to use care in using these lessons. Although we are called by God to care for and use our planet, the program has questions like "What are some of the ways the Earth takes care of you?" Parents should be careful to instill a biblical worldview of God's creation and God's care of His people, rather than the earth caring for us.

Godly character training is an essential part of our teaching. Parents could use The Million Dollar Machine program to achieve this goal, even though the spiritual aspects are not there overtly. Because we have these books, we will use them in our homeschool. However, the program has a worldly bias toward pride, greater income, and popularity, rather than service, meekness, and a God-honoring respect for oneself and others. We will counter these shortcomings with a Biblical worldview. If you choose to use The Million Dollar Machine Life Skills Enrichment Program, realize that you will have to work to glean the positive from its pages and focus your children on God. Teach your children they are more than any million dollar machine; they are a special creation by God, knitted in the womb from conception for exactly His plan for their lives. In so doing, you will provide a well-rounded character education for your children. 

Product review by Donna Campos, Senior Product Reviewer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, March 2009

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